Baby Adventures: The Secret Note - Part Seven
Fyora laced her graceful fingers together on the table. "Let us split into groups. Kolyae, Queen Nabile, and King Altador will locate Vira and bring her to the castle for imprisonment. Princess Amira, Kasthie, Princess Terrana, and Princess Roberta will find the Space Faerie and bring her back. King Jazan, King Hagan, and King Skarl will decide how to best protect the magic sources after we retrieve them. Treaphie, Princess Lunara, and I will focus on retrieving the sources of magic. All the others will warn the faeries what is going on and try to get people on the lookout for Vira and Jhudora."
Everyone murmured their agreement and got into their groups without further comment.
"Remember," Fyora said, her voice powerful, "our tasks may be different from the other groups, but one task may rely on the completion of another. They are linked in more ways than we can imagine. Good luck." She looked down at Treaphie and Princess Lunara beside her. Then, without further ado, she vanished into purple mist, the others in her group gone as well.
Kolyae looked up at his group. Queen Nabile picked the Chomby up and gazed expectantly at King Altador. "Well?" she asked him. "Where do we start?"
"We start by locating Vira," King Altador mused, "so we need to find out where she is."
"Let's start by asking around among the Neolodge staff. Vira was suffering from an injury last I saw her three hours ago, so if she left, she can't have gone far," Kolyae suggested.
Queen Nabile looked at the baby fondly. "Now there's a leader," she exclaimed, looking pointedly at King Altador. "This little boy could replace you, King Altador," she said with a friendly smile.
"Yeah, yeah," Altador said gruffly, not finding this humorous in the least. "Off we go, then."
The small group trudged out a side door of the palace, and Nabile gave a long, low whistle. A chariot came, pulled by two strong Unis of a pink shade that matched the Queen's skin. She hopped in, carrying Kolyae, and Altador sat beside her on the velvet blue and gold cushions. The Unis set off for the Faerie Castle Neolodge.
The Unis were fast, but it was still a long ride because of what awaited them on the path. The chaos had deepened since Kolyae had last seen the clouds, and by now there was hardly a splotch of white fluffiness anywhere. The clouds had lost their bouncy texture. All of the other Unis had fled - whether in fear or because a staggering number of citizens wanted to leave and none wanted to come - and everyone was slipping and sliding on the slick purple surface. The faeries were hard at work, trying to fight to keep the clouds at least not completely overtaken by the Dark, but the small patches weren't enough to compensate for the large amounts of Dark magic. It was depressing to look at. Swerving around all the faeries and trying to keep the chariot from sliding off the edge of the clouds didn't exactly help the Uni's speed, and every minute that ticked by made Kolyae wonder if they were too late, if there was any chance they could find Vira.
By the time they reached the Neolodge, they had almost lost hope. Nabile scooped up the Chomby again, everybody leaped out of the chariot, and they started running for the doors. People stopped to stare at the royalty entering when they first moved through the doors, and soon they formed a crowd around them, asking for signatures. Pushing through the crowd was not possible, for there were too many of them. Queen Nabile looked helplessly at King Altador, and Kolyae covered his eyes and shook in Nabile's arms. He was always very shy around people, and all this attention was making him feel uncomfortable.
"Urgent business!" Altador called out. This just brought more questions, more comments, more pleas to help out. He gritted his teeth in anger.
Nabile suddenly cried in a shrill voice, "Fyora! It's great to see you, Your Majesty. I remember you told me to let you personally deal with all the people who bothered me, but..."
It was amazing how these words affected the crowd. Though Fyora was nowhere to be seen, everybody backed up as far as they could.
"To the Medical Care Area," Kolyae whispered in Nabile's ear. Nabile and Altador ran straight for the area described by the Chomby, and nobody tried to stop them. The royalty ran through the doors and looked wildly about.
A Moehog was having his arm treated by a Purple Kyrii. There was a young Kacheek with a cold. The last pet getting healed was...
"A Pink Kougra," said Kolyae bitterly. "We're too late. She's gone."
The workers at the small hospital looked over at the newcomers. Immediately they gasped.
"My Queen! My King!"
"What brings you here?"
"I have longed to see you my whole life!"
"We are here on urgent business!" Nabile declared. "A matter of emergency. I need cooperation in order to complete the task."
"Good, thanks. Have you seen an Acara here today?"
"Why, yes," said a small nurse. She was an Orange Ixi and had a beautiful jeweled collar with rhinestones embroidering it. Her uniform was pristine, with the white dress unwrinkled and completely absent of any other colors. "I saw her earlier today. She looked awful - more than ugly, if possible, though I hate to be rude."
"Did she have a long black dress?" Kolyae asked earnestly. "A pair of boots?"
"Yes and yes," said the nurse simply. "And she was passed out for a while. She woke up about half an hour ago and left without saying anything to us. She just raced off."
"Nothing at all?" asked King Altador, frowning. "Not a word? Something unimportant to you all may be of major importance to our cause."
The Ixi knit her eyebrows, obviously thinking about the encounter more carefully. "She said something... something like, 'Have to hide before the job is done.' I'm not sure where she went."
"Anything else she said?" Kolyae asked.
The Ixi shook her head. "Not while conscious. Soon after we brought her here, she mumbled something similar to what she said after waking up. She said, 'The job will be finished, that'll teach them.' Quite strange, really."
"The job must be getting rid of one of the sources of magic," said Nabile sadly.
"And she's hiding... that means finding her will be near impossible in this chaos," said Altador. He wasn't doing a good job hiding the disappointment and hopelessness from his face.
Kolyae thought for a moment. Then his eyes lit up, and he exclaimed, "I know where to go!"
Nabile and Altador looked disbelieving. "It's great you have a theory, dear-" Nabile started.
Kolyae interrupted, "It's a good theory! A great one! I understand, I know where she is!"
Altador looked as confused as Nabile felt. "But where is she?" asked the Queen of Qasala.
"The Employment office," said Kolyae, pride in his voice.
Kolyae explained his reasoning after they left the Medical Area and got onto the chariot, refusing - much to the hotel workers' disappointment - to say more in front of the staff.
"When we heard Vira talking about the job to get rid of the magic source," Kolyae babbled as the Unis galloped towards the Employment Office, "she always referred to it as the 'deed'. I mean always. So why did she suddenly switch to the word 'job'?"
"Because 'job' was on her mind," Nabile guessed, smiling as it became clear what the Baby had thought of.
"But wait," Altador said, putting his paw on his forehead. "Why should she hide in Faerieland? She knows we are here, and it would be smart to get as far away from the place the pursuers are in as possible. This does not add up to me."
"So you think that she isn't in Faerieland?" Kolyae asked.
"That's exactly why she's here," Kolyae pointed out. "It's so unexpected for her to be hiding where we saw her that it's the smartest place to hide."
"But won't she be seen?" Altador asked. "She knows we are going to ask around."
"But the chaos is in Faerie City mainly," Kolyae explained, "so everyone's either going there to help out or leave entirely. Nobody's over here at the outskirts."
Sure enough, when they arrived at the Employment Office, they couldn't find anyone behind the desk. The seats were empty. Job advertisements were stacked neatly in a pile on the desk, and nobody was fighting over them.
Kolyae slunk around the area, feeling like a spy and liking it. Feeling rather important, he looked around, hoping to find something before the others. To his disappointment, the area wasn't very small. There were so many places to check that he was starting to lose hope again. After a while of fruitless searching, he was getting more convinced that he was wrong. The only thing that stopped him from leaving was a flicker of hope that the area left to search was getting smaller by the minute.
But that was before the shriek.
He turned and saw Nabile shield her eyes and push back a bin that people used to deposit the items fetched for jobs. Altador raced up with his sword immediately. Kolyae heard a heavy crash and realized that Vira had been inside the box, covered by items. He quietly made his way over, still afraid of Vira, not sure if he was ready to face her. Altador looked at Nabile uncertainly.
"Nabile, why are you looking away?" he asked.
"Don't look at her!" Nabile instructed. "I have heard tales and apparently, she is so gorgeous you won't be able to stop gawking. She can then force you to do almost anything." Her eyes darkened. "Including looking in mirrors."
Altador groaned. "How can we fight her without looking at her?"
Nabile crawled along the floor and kicked out. There was a cry that sounded like it came from Vira, and Kolyae couldn't help watching from the corner of his eye. Vira leapt towards King Altador, who slashed with his sword. He missed, but Vira launched to the side to get away from the weapon and did not touch Altador. Instead, she scratched Nabile with her claws and put her head right in front of her face.
"Look at me," she purred.
"No," Nabile told her strongly.
"Look at me." Vira's voice was so persuasive, so confident, Nabile couldn't help but flutter her eyelids.
"Look." Vira leaned closer. "At." Closer still, "Me."
Nabile's eyes suddenly opened, but Vira had turned her head. A sword had sailed past her, missing her just barely.
She scooped up the sword and grinned. Altador was shaking in fear, his eyes closed, having no weapon to fight with. He had sacrificed his only weapon to save Nabile, and now he was defenseless. He backed up, but Vira came closer. Nabile saw the danger Altador was in and nearly cried out, but then she remembered the experience she had gained as a thief and quietly crept up to Vira. Quick as a flash, she stood and drew back her fist, but Vira merely swished her sword and Nabile gasped as it grazed her arm, cutting off a small amount of fur.
"Stay back," the Acara warned.
Vira leered at Altador. "You know you're going to look," she told him smoothly. "You cannot help but look straight at me."
Kolyae knew she wouldn't attack him - she would want him to become a servant of her master so that she could be freed. The sword was hanging loosely by her side, momentarily forgotten. Nabile, despite Vira's warning to stay back, was edging closer, creeping along, using the techniques she used when thieving. For a wild moment, Kolyae thought she was going to retrieve the sword from Vira, that everything would be all right. But when she got to the sword, Nabile had the problem of getting it without Vira noticing.
Vira was concentrating on Altador, keeping his attention, pressuring him to look at her. He was fighting it, but was not going to keep it up for long. Nabile knew she had to act, so she made a split-second decision and grabbed the sword. She yanked it out of reach, hoping to run away before Vira could get it back.
Vira had faster reflexes than she had thought.
"Give me that!" Vira hissed, taking it and pulling it right out of her grasp. Nabile shrieked as the sword came sailing down, and she swiftly dove out of the way. Vira was growling. She warned her sternly not to interfere and went back to Altador.
"I've got to help," Kolyae thought. Kolyae saw a net hanging on the wall of the Employment Office. He grabbed it and studied it. The net was in a criss-cross fashion with very small holes. It was heavy, made of steel cables. He managed to drag it across the floor. His breathing shallow, he tried to not make much noise, and hoped he was doing a good job of it, though he couldn't be sure. Vira was nearly done with Altador. His eyelids were lifting as if tied to balloons. He couldn't hold out much longer.
Nabile was near Kolyae, far away from Altador, unable to get there quickly without making noise. She was obviously thinking, but was having no luck coming up with a solution. She crept towards Altador but was sure she would not reach him before Vira was done. They were too far away.
Then Kolyae passed her the net.
Nabile's mouth formed an 'o' as it occurred to her what she was to do with the net. She slowly trod towards Vira, as quietly as if wearing slippers on a furry carpet, and tossed the heavy net.
Just as Altador's eyes began to show, Vira collapsed on the floor.
Nabile quickly tied the net. Altador, meanwhile, grabbed the sword from the shrinking opening of the net. Vira could only stare in the moment of confusion, but quickly realized what was happening and, too late, struggled against the trap.
Contentedly, Altador grabbed the top of the net and heaved Vira over his shoulder like a potato sack. Vira kicked and thrashed, but it didn't do anything. The cables held.
"Where to?" Nabile asked, picking up Kolyae.
"The palace," said Altador. He ignored Vira's continuous outbursts and made his way to the chariot, Nabile right behind him.
Back at the palace, they found Kasthie, Princess Terrana, Princess Amira, and Princess Roberta all in deep conversation.
"I'm telling you," said Princess Roberta, an edge in her voice, "the Space Faerie has got to have been seen by somebody. We should ask around." The princess had dark black hair that was cut in a bob style, though the ends flared a bit and hung above her shoulders. Her blue fur was clean and neat, and her Brightvalian dress was simple despite her status.
"Oh, yes. What responses are you expecting? 'I saw the Space Faerie captured by Vira and taken to the underground tunnel at these coordinates. Of course, I didn't tell anyone until now because I didn't think it was that interesting.' I can definitely see how that would be helpful," Princess Terrana said, sarcasm dripping in her voice. She put one hand through her dark green Gnorbu mane while her other hand adjusted her ornamental Shenkuu headband to keep her messy hair away from her big, bright eyes.
Princess Amira spoke next. She had long Aisha ears that were completely covered in gold jewelry. White silk hung around her head, hiding everything except her face with a sheet and matching her regal robes. She had blue mascara on and light, tan skin. "Everybody, please, we need to consult the one who does know where the Space Faerie is and won't tell. The person who captured her in the first place."
"Vira," said Kasthie the Baby Korbat. She looked timid and uncertain in the midst of all the royal pets. Her cream white cheeks were tinged pink in her embarrassment, matching her small wings.
"You mean this Acara?" asked Kolyae, pointing to Altador's sack. The royal ladies and Kasthie jumped - they hadn't known Nabile, Altador, and Kolyae had arrived.
"Distantly-related sister!" Princess Amira spoke with a smile. She obviously had a hard time realizing she was not the only Desert princess.
"Call me Nabile, sis," said Nabile with a wink. "I suppose I still need to call you The Ever So Important And Amazing Princess Of Sakhmet In The Lost Desert?"
Princess Amira gave her a sharp look. "Watch your place," she hissed.
"Aren't we both at the same status?" asked Queen Nabile playfully. "Oh, no, you're the princess and I'm Queen. I keep forgetting I'm at a higher rank!"
"Settle down!" King Altador yelped, watching the two stare each other down. "Here is Vira. Any questions you have concerning the Space Faerie's capture, address them to her."
"Ah, yes, the Space Faerie's capture," Vira said in a bored tone. "As if I would say anything about that."
Everyone looked carefully at the net, for it was so thick that it was hard to see through the cables' spaces.
"Why'd you trap the Space Faerie?" Kasthie asked.
"How's that gonna help you find her?" smirked Vira.
"If it doesn't help, answering it doesn't make much of an impact, now, does it?" Kasthie reasoned. Kolyae admired her tactics as he noted a small hesitation from Vira.
"I obviously didn't want this royal meeting taking place. Somebody might see my plans with Jhudora, and they'd be in a high enough position to take action. And even if nobody saw, I knew that the meeting was about my schemes, and together they could certainly have prevented me from carrying on. I reasoned that stopping the messenger could stop the message."
"But we delivered it," said Kasthie happily.
Vira sighed. "Of course," she said. "Not everything worked out. But my plan has not been stopped. The deed will be done by Jhudora. My role in this is completed."
"So now that the Space Faerie is trapped, and the message has already been revealed," said Princess Terrana quickly, "why leave her trapped?"
Vira sounded annoyed. "The Space Faerie has grand abilities," she told them. "If she were released, can you imagine how she may thwart Jhudora and I's plans? No, no, she is much safer hidden away on a cloud far from Faerieland."
Nobody spoke. Then a babble of chatter hit all at once.
"So that's where she is!"
"Now she can be rescued!"
"The day is saved!"
"Hold it!" Vira snapped. "Finding out where she is is only half the challenge. I live on the cloud she is trapped in. Jhudora made the cage. It's nearly impossible to open. You need to solve the challenge physically and mentally, and, well..." She smirked. "Royal, pampered girls aren't exactly known for wits greater than the Space Faerie's."
"Hey!" Princess Roberta protested.
"By the way, I haven't exactly been feeding her," said Vira in a casual voice. "I'm not sure you'll save her before she becomes too weak from hunger to do her part."
"Her part?" Kasthie asked, but Vira did not say anything else.
"Well, let's get going," said Princess Terrana fiercely. Kasthie couldn't help but admire her determination. She felt so lost, so uncertain, so afraid. But the princess had obviously been waiting for some action the last couple of hours and was ready to go. The others looked a bit less sure than Terrana, but they stood up. Princess Roberta picked up Kasthie and stroked her head affectionately.
"Ready to go, little one?" she asked kindly.
"Of-of course," Kasthie said in a voice that said quite the opposite.
Roberta smiled. "Me neither. Come on!" And with that, the three princesses and Kasthie left the palace, wondering what they had gotten themselves into.
There was a problem as soon as they reached the edge of the clouds.
The group had been running, trying to make it to the outer clouds in record time. They stopped at the boundary between the purple slickness and the sky, staring ahead for a few seconds before they accepted the fact they had no idea how to get to the next cloud.
Princess Roberta looked at Princess Terrana uncertainly. "Can you... erm, use the grappling hook to get across?"
Princess Terrana shook her head. "Nah, my grappling hook only can hang onto solid items. Clouds aren't that solid - well, besides this one," she said grimly, looking down at the slick purple cloud beneath her feet.
The clouds away from Faerieland hadn't yet been affected by the Dark. They were as clouds normally are: harmless and soft.
Princess Amira sighed. "Honestly, have you two ever been in charge of things?"
She called out, "Princess Amira requests assistance!"
Immediately a nearby Air Faerie ran up to them. She was young and pretty. Her blonde hair was a soft shade and had light blue streaks in it. Her dress looked as if it were made from lilac silk; it hung all the way down to her ankles, where it gracefully floated above the surface of the ground, and the top of the dress was lined with tufts of fluffy white cloud. She had fair skin, bright, pearly blue eyes, and a smile that showed she was missing one or two teeth. The girl looked about eleven years old.
"Princess Amira?" she asked, interested. "Can I help you?"
"Yes," Princess Amira said airily. "We need to be able to get to other clouds. Ideas?"
The young faerie's eyes widened. "Oh," she gasped, "my mother has her own Air Faerie Racer that she used to professionally ride in when she was younger! She's stopped doing the sport, and the Racer is just sitting in the garage. I'll go get it!" The faerie jumped into the sky, and immediately winds streaked the air and propelled her forward.
Princess Amira looked at everyone. "And that is how a princess does her work."
"Lots of work," Princess Roberta muttered.
Princess Terrana rolled her eyes. "Amira, we prefer doing the task, not watching others do it."
Amira gasped. "You mean... all the time?" She sounded surprised, her mouth agape.
Kasthie said in a small voice, "Shh, she's coming back."
The royal ladies turned. In the midst of the chaos, unnoticed by the majority of Faerieland's population, a sleek, light-blue racer was gliding soundlessly towards them. It was swift as wind, light as air, and looked very comfortable. It came to a stop right beside them, and the young faerie grinned at them.
"Will this do?" she asked.
"That's perfect! My thanks to..." Princess Amira hesitated for a brief second. "Name?" she asked swiftly.
"Mia," the faerie said, dropping to a curtsy before the princess. "I hope it is to your liking? You can give me a different nickname if you wish."
"It will do," said Princess Amira with a smile on her face. Princess Roberta carried Kasthie into the Faerie Cloud Racer, the others following behind them.
Mia looked at them pleasantly as they boarded on. Her bright blue eyes were gleaming. "Make yourselves comfortable," she told them warmly.
The Racer was a cool blue color, somewhere between sky-blue and the hue of ice. The design made it aerodynamic and easy to change the direction at a moment's notice. Inside, it was smooth and cool. The floor was shiny and slick, and there was only one seat: the one at the front.
Mia occupied the only seat, so the princesses had to take a seat on the floor. It was very cold; Princess Amira leapt into the air at first from surprise, but then she gathered her courage and slowly sat again. Kasthie was nice and warm, cradled in Roberta's arms, but she couldn't enjoy the feeling for long. Once the Racer started up, it went so fast that the wind whipped at their cheeks, making it hardly a comfortable ride. Mia was exhilarated, but she was clearly the only one feeling that way from the looks on the royal girls' faces.
The Racer bounced onto cloud after cloud. Mia kept looking back, hoping for some sort of feedback on if she was in the right spot or, indeed, where she was supposed to go, but Princess Amira would just shake her head and gesture vaguely for her to continue.
Kasthie's lower lip trembled. She wasn't ready for this. She had thought just making it to Fyora's palace was a challenge, but defeating an evil that even made Fyora a little uncertain? She had no idea how Treaphie would manage to retrieve the magic sources, but Treaphie was brave. She was bold and strong and determined. Kasthie had faith that somehow, she would succeed.
And Kolyae had helped trap Vira. That was quite a feat! But she was the youngest, the most timid, and the most inexperienced. At home, her owner, Brianna, would always be getting her things. She brought the Baby Korbat cookies, blankets, toys, everything. She even carried her from place to place. Kasthie felt like the least able pet in Neopia for the task ahead of her.
After a while, Princess Terrana stood up. Kasthie didn't see how she could be so steady since they were in a moving vehicle with an eleven-year-old driver, but Terrana was used to daring things like that. "We're here," she said calmly with certainty in her voice.
Amira looked at the princess skeptically. "How do you know this?" she asked slowly.
In response, Terrana pointed.
"Wow," breathed Roberta.
A massive fortification was looming on one of the bright white clouds farthest from Faerieland. It was a beautiful purple shade, its towers slender and a pleasure to look at. Lots of windows were all over the walls, letting in large amounts of light through the glass. It looked so beautiful, yet there was a sense of evil around it. Kasthie could think of no better place for Vira to live: it was just like the Acara.
Mia looked uncertain. Unable to look away from the structure, she said quietly, "This is where you need to be dropped off?"
"You don't have to come with us," Roberta said quickly, but Mia protested.
"I want to come!" she pleaded. "Anything to help you out!"
Princess Amira waved her hand in a bored manner, as if discussing what to eat for breakfast. "Fine by me. Land right in front of the place."
Mia steered the vehicle, which glided smoothly on the puffy cloud. The royal princesses filed out, Kasthie still cradled in Roberta's arms, and Mia climbed off the vehicle once they had all gotten out of it.
No one could deny the place was huge. "It'll take ages to search through!" Princess Terrana said, and no one disagreed.
"Let's split into groups," suggested Amira. "Terrana, you can be my partner. Mia and Kasthie will explore alongside Roberta."
Before anyone could say more, Amira left at once towards the building.
Terrana looked unconcerned. "See you later," she said, and she hurried after the Aisha.
Roberta looked at the baby and the child next to her. "Great," she said. "Perfect protection." And she set off.
It took all of Kasthie's strength to resist covering her eyes with her hands. She would prove to Roberta that she was brave. Mia, meanwhile, looked very curious, eyes wide. The girl obviously didn't mind at all that they were going into Vira's house; in fact, she seemed very excited.
Roberta opened the door and saw Amira and Terrana standing there. Three hallways led off from where they stood. Everyone looked at other members of their group, as if hoping for another to decide where to go.
Finally, Amira, used to taking charge, proclaimed to them all, "Well, we shall not stand here any longer. We have jobs to do!"
She looked at Terrana. "We'll go this way," she said, stepping towards the left hallway. "You go to the hallway directly in front. We'll go right afterward if we can't find anything."
"All right," Roberta agreed, setting off in front. Mia followed her with anticipation. The hallways were lined with red rugs, soft and fuzzy under their feet. Each of the three original hallways branched off into more and more. Roberta chose the hallways to go through, but Kasthie could see that she had no idea where she was going. Meanwhile, the items they saw in the halls made every one of them want to stop and stare. From glittering jewels to precious metals, everything was carved intricately and with precise detail.
"Look at this!" cried Mia, staring at a statue of a faerie. The faerie looked like an older version of herself, tall and beautiful. Mia stared dreamily. "Her dress looks like the wind is blowing, look at the ripples in the cloth, and... oh, this is incredible! Gorgeous!"
"We can't get distracted," Roberta reminded her strictly. "We cannot..." She faltered as she saw an intricate sword hanging on the wall, its hilt golden and encrusted with jewels. The blade had beautiful inscriptions in an elegant hand; it was simply mesmerizing to stare at.
Kasthie tried to snap her fingers. "Come on! The Space Faerie, Mira, is somewhere in here! We have got to free her!"
Kasthie saw loads of beautiful items, but none caught her eye the way they did with Roberta and Mia. It was almost as if the enchantments weren't strong enough to overcome her concern for the Space Faerie's safety. Kasthie was continuously urging on the others to keep moving, which seemed to snap them out of their trance and get the group moving once more. They found themselves lost in the identical hallways, and the emptiness gave them all shivers of fear.
Eventually, Kasthie peered into the distance and saw something other than the endless dim hallways. "I think there's a light up ahead," she announced suddenly. This caught the other's attention. They stared intently ahead of them, walking a little more quickly now, and soon Mia was chattering away.
"I see it too," the young Air Faerie told them excitedly. "I think it's Mira!" Without another word, the faerie flew forward as though the wind was carrying her - which, as she was an Air Faerie, it probably was. By the time the others had run to the room, she was tugging at the thick iron bars that were imprisoning a weak figure surrounded by a fading deep-blue aura.
The Space Faerie!
"How do we free her, Roberta?" Kasthie asked, shaking a little at the sight of the pitiful figure on the floor of the cage. At the sound of voices, the Space Faerie looked up and gasped.
"Someone has come at last!" she exclaimed, but she was too weak to say more and closed her eyes again.
Princess Roberta looked at her with concern, as did Mia.
"I have food," Mia told her, at which the Space Faerie's eyes opened wide and darted towards the young figure. Mia reached into the pockets of her silk dress and pulled out a small cake and a packet of crackers, which she pushed between the bars. Mira grabbed them with surprising agility and stuffed them into her mouth as though she hadn't eaten in days, which Kasthie didn't doubt by the look of her.
"Mira, where's the key to this cage?" she asked her.
"I don't know," she said, licking the crumbs off her hands and looking disappointed that the meal was gone, but seeming a little more strengthened nonetheless. "But it's somewhere in the hallway. I know because I always heard it jingle when she would walk through there on her way in here. She liked to taunt me, dangling it in front of me as I starved. When she left, the jingling would stop after a certain point in the hallway, though she kept walking on."
"You've been very observant," Princess Roberta told her approvingly. She turned towards the door. "No worries, Mira, I'll be right back with the key--"
"No!" Kasthie exclaimed, startling the princess. "No," she repeated, more quietly this time, "I think I should do it... I don't know how long Mira can last in there, and you know how much the place distracts you... no offense," she added hastily.
Roberta laughed. "None taken!" she said breezily. "No worries, I completely agree with you. Go on, Kasthie - but be quick!"
Kasthie sauntered back into the dazzling hallway, with shining gems on pedestals and beauteous portraits lining the walls, but she paid them no attention. She quickly saw the key right beside a silver mirror and grabbed it, squeezing her eyes tightly shut to avoid looking into the glass. Any mirror belonging to Vira could be dangerous.
She hurried back to the room and handed the keys to Roberta, who unlocked the cage swiftly and tugged at the door. She frowned.
"It... won't... open," she grunted. "But this is the key!"
"Did I grab the wrong one?" asked Kasthie, perplexed. "I didn't see any more..."
"Perhaps I should go check," Roberta suggested worriedly.
Kasthie nodded, but before Roberta could leave, Mia mentioned casually, "I wonder if there is some other requirement for opening the door than simply having the key."
Something about this phrase triggered a memory in both Kasthie's and Roberta's minds. They gasped in unison and shouted, "Her part!"
Mia looked puzzled at this outburst, but the Space Faerie's eyes widened.
"I'm... sorry," she said slowly. "I can't do it. I don't have the strength."
"What do you have to do?" Princess Roberta asked.
"Tell us!" Mia urged.
Mira whispered, "I have to push the door open... from the inside."
The others stared.
"That shouldn't be hard," Princess Roberta said bluntly, nonplussed.
"You don't understand," Mira said sadly. "To open the door requires strength of character - lots of hope and bravery, which have left me since my imprisonment."
"You've got to try, Mira," Roberta encouraged her. "Come on... get closer..."
But Mira shook her head. "It is no ordinary door. It will not open unless somebody imprisoned, somebody who isn't weak, can open it after the cage has been unlocked."
"But we can't get in," Mia whined. "So you're going to have to open it!"
Kasthie gasped, startled, as an idea occurred to her. "What?" Mia asked earnestly. "Do you have a plan?" But Kasthie didn't respond. She just crawled forward until she was standing right next to the bars. She held her breath, making her skinny body even skinnier, and slipped inside.
Everybody stared at her in astonishment. "What are you doing?!" Princess Roberta demanded.
"Opening the door," stated Kasthie plainly, and she walked towards the door of the cage. Pushing forward one of her tiny hands, she touched the metal entrance, and the door swung open. Princess Roberta wasted no time in rushing inside, pulling Mira along out the doors of the cage. As soon as she exited the cage, Kasthie toddling behind her, Mira stood straighter. The aura around her became stronger, and a smile flitted across her face.
"This feels so much better!" she told them heartily. "Thank you all so much!"
Mia chirped, "It was no problem, Space Faerie. In fact, I'm honored to do it - you're my favorite faerie!" She giggled. "Besides myself, of course."
"Oh, really?" The Space Faerie smiled. "And why is that? Because I saved Neopia from Dr. Sloth?"
"No, no, because our names are so similar!" said Mia excitedly.
"Oh." Mira looked crestfallen, but Roberta hastily reminded her, "There's not time to waste. We've got to return to the palace."
Kasthie looked worried. "What about Princess Amira and Princess Terrana? They could be anywhere!"
Roberta nodded. "Mira, can you get Princess Amira and Princess Terrana? I think they're lost in the house, looking at all the valuables like we were. They didn't have Kasthie with them since we went in two different groups."
"No problem," the Space Faerie declared. "Give me only a moment and I'll have them back." She looked distastefully around at the decorations. "I've seen enough of this place to last me a lifetime." She flew out the door, returning with both princesses minutes later, who were looking rather sheepish.
"We couldn't go more than fifty feet," Princess Amira admitted. "There were the most beautiful golden trinkets, and Terrana here had her eye on a finely-crafted maractite dagger--"
"Anyway," Princess Terrana intervened, clearly not wanting to chat about how she had failed to get past Vira's defenses, "We should get back to Fyora's place. Who knows what we'll be needed for next?"
"You can ride in my Racer, Mira," Mia exclaimed enthusiastically. "I'm a great driver, aren't I, guys?" The royal princesses' faces suddenly appeared distraught at the thought of getting back into the young girl's vehicle.
Not looking too thrilled, Mira obliged, following the group out of the house.
To be continued...